Martin Luther King Jr. was more than a great pastor and civil rights leader. He had a deeply discerning mind that focused on timeless truths. The holiday in his commemoration is not only the time to celebrate his depth, character, and accomplishments, but it is also an occasion to reflect on the conditioning and brainwashing that characterize today’s woke culture, which now accepts and seeks to normalize the legitimacy of divisive and demoralizing ideologies.
In contrast, King was all about constructive action directed at racial and social healing through truth, love, and peaceful nonviolent debate and protest. Those who claim to hold up the torch of civil rights today, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, would do well to heed both King’s own words as well as the timeless works that he often drew from.
The woke movement in the United States is the progeny of Black Lives Matter, an organization that was founded by Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza who openly admit to being Marxist organizers. For those who relate wokeness to progress, there is a gnawing question: What good ever came out of Marxism? While some newcomers to the philosophy might idealistically presuppose their cause is about a socialist utopia, the outcomes of socialism in practice in diverse nations have almost all ended in poverty and misery.
King recognized that the self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal… with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” wasn’t realized in 1776, nor when the U.S. Constitution was ratified some 14 years later. Nor was Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” proposition “that all men are created equal” fulfilled through the Civil War’s Emancipation Proclamation.
King would be jailed some twenty-nine times in his course to fulfilling those ideals.
In King’s most famous “I have a dream” speech, delivered from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, it was as if the Almighty was calling America to rise up and fulfill its spiritual destiny. To the self-evident truth of all people having equal value, King added an equally timeless truth, that people “should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Were it possible to transport King into the present, he would be shocked by the regression that has taken place in America in the nearly three generations since he led the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He would reject the eclipse of the group, gender, and ethnic identity evaluation paradigm over the individual merit and character-based approach for assessment, acceptance, and advancement — whether in school admission or hiring and promotion in the workplace.
King would condemn wokeism and Critical Race Theory (CRT) because they perpetuate negative racial stereotypes, albeit in a reversal that denigrates the white race. He would also find them fundamentally flawed because they exacerbate division in society rather than bringing people together through constructive dialogue and seeing all people as individuals made in God’s image.
King was flawed, but he was more than a great pastor and civil rights leader. One of the timeless truths King referred to on numerous occasions, which also speaks to us today, was Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed in the renewing of your mind.” King drew on Thomas Jefferson’s statement, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” He warned in a sermon as early as 1954, also recorded in his book, Strength to Love, that, “If Americans permit thought-control, business-control and freedom-control to continue, we shall surely move within the shadows of fascism.”
Nearly seventy years later, we have moved way beyond shadows and now live in a matrix of fascism and communism that effectively operates at various levels within the United States under the camouflage and misnomer of being “woke.”
Few American leaders have remained as strong and clearheaded about the dangers of groupthink as King. He reminds us of Emerson’s words: “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” And drawing on Apostle Paul’s teachings, King implored that, “Any Christian who blindly accepts the opinions of the majority and in fear and timidity follows a path of expediency and social approval is a mental and spiritual slave.” King also commended those who went against the crowd, pointing out that, “The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists… [so] in any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!”
King’s lesser-known speeches and sermons also provide prescient insight on the times in which we live. On numerous occasions, he quoted scripture about the need to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,” arguing that people need to have a tough mind and a tender heart. He expressed concern that the “prevalent tendency toward softmindedness is found in man’s unbelievable gullibility.” King further stated that, “Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the truth from the false, the fact from the fiction…”
King was also critical of the media, stating that “One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.” He concluded this theme, with the warning that “a nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.” Such counsel is more pressing and pertinent today than it was when he said it some 60 years ago.
Clearly there is much to learn from and reflect upon in the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Most significant and formidable about the man was the unique, vital, and powerful role he played in the unfinished progress of America. Despite his flaws, he rose to the challenge of completing the course of redemption in American history. Nearly two hundred years after the vision expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and one hundred years after the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, King fulfilled his redemptive mission, sacrificing his life to finish the work he described as making people, “free at last, free at last.”
Scott Powell is senior fellow at Discovery Institute. His recent book, Rediscovering America, was #1 new release in history for eight straight weeks at Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1637581599). Reach him at [email protected]